Working: Brigitte Robinson

By Patrisha McLean | Feb 13, 2011
Photo by: Patrisha McLean Brigitte Robinson

Brigitte drove trucks as a reservist in the army. She ferried the handicapped and elderly to appointments in California. And she drove a school bus for 12 years in Texas. (“I was about ready to quit because the kids were so rotten. They put me on a Special Ed bus and I loved it. Those kids were so sweet.”)

She moved to Maine 17 years ago. “When you come from Texas, Maine seems like a roller coaster. I swore I wouldn’t drive here.”

In 1997, needing a job, she answered a newspaper ad for Mid-Coast Limo and has been a driver for them ever since. As such, she chauffeurs travelers in a six-passenger van, door to door. About 95 percent of her drives are to and from the Portland airport, and in the summer it’s common for her to make two airport runs in a day.

One of Brigitte’s tricks for staying alert on “the same old road” is, “I count license plates.” She added, “Almost every license plate in Maine has two of the same numbers.” She knows all the shortcuts: “In the summer when it’s really clogged, if we can, we go through Gardiner and a little byway through Alna. But don’t tell everybody!” And she has her favorite stops along the way. Irving gas stations, “have the cleanest bathrooms.”  When she’s driving an empty van she takes smoking breaks at the Edgecomb rest stop because, “It’s so beautiful there, the birds and the sunrises and sundowns.”

GPS, because she needs to find her way to customers’ homes in a time crunch, is “a good thing.” The cellphone, especially in the hands of passengers who use it “from the time I pick them up at the airport until I drop them off at their house,” not so much. “I can’t tell them, ‘hang up the damn phone, you’re annoying me.’ They’re paying for the ride and they can do whatever they want.”

Her passengers include college students and professors, business executives, tourists and celebrities of the John Travolta variety. She pulls up to an equally wide range of houses. “That always amazed me when I first started driving here. People would come in the summer or at Christmas for a week or two to their ‘cottage.’ It’s this 10-bedroom house. If this is your ‘cottage’ what does your real home look like?’”

Brigitte said, “If they want to talk, they let me know.” Her focus is on safety.

“Even the Mainers, people who have been living here all their lives, the first snow and they’re off the road. Take it slow!” That edict extends to all weather conditions. “It’s not just my life, it’s my passengers' lives. That’s why when they say, ‘hurry up’ I say, ‘what would you rather have? Me speeding and you in a ditch, or you miss your flight and catch the next one?” Slow and steady works: Only once has a passenger gotten to the airport late, and that was because of the passenger’s faulty directions to their home.

Brigitte said most of her passengers catch early morning flights, which in the winter when there’s usually only one run a day means working from about 2:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. “I prefer those,” she said, “because then I have the rest of the day to do what I want.”

To Brigitte, who wanted to be a veterinarian when she lived in her native Germany, that means, “playing with the puppy.” Mojo is a Great Dane almost twice Brigitte’s size. In Brigitte’s trailer, festooned with framed portraits of favorite pets, he steadily paces the breadth of their home, with walks across the couch and pauses to perch on her lap. “I love the Great Dane breed. They’re so gentle and sensitive.”

On top of her TV set are two wooden urns topped with Great Dane statuettes, and in a hutch by the kitchen three ceramic urns with the remains of beloved cats. “When I retire I’m going to get my own piece of land where I know I’m going to stay,” she said “and where they can get a proper burial. Call me crazy but I want to be close to them.”

 

 


Patrisha McLean is a nationally-exhibited photographer specializing in black and white portraits of children, and the author of "Maine Street," published by Down East Books in 2009. Her website is www.patrishamclean.com and she can be reached at patrishamclean@aol.com
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